I’ve always been impressed with the verbiage of Acts 16:25. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (NRSV). What’s fascinating is the Greek verbiage, not the English. In English, singing and praying are two things, but in Greek, it’s seen as one and the same.
A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures reads: “Praying they were singing (simultaneously, blending together petition and praise).” Wayne Jackson’s New Testament commentary reads: “The Greek construction suggests they were ‘singing prayers.’” Alford’s Greek Testament notes: “…in their prayers, [they] were singing praises. The distinction of modern times between prayer and praise, arising from our attention being directed to the shape rather than to the essence of devotion, was unknown in these days.” Vincent’s Word Studies notes: “Lit., praying, they sang hymns. The praying and the praise are not described as distinct acts. Their singing of hymns was their prayer, probably Psalms.”
I find this so interesting because we distinguish prayer and praise, but in the early church, they were not as distinct as we made them out to be. There are many passages where prayer is isolated from praise (Matt. 26:39; Luke 22:44; Heb. 5:7; et. al.). Even in worship, prayer is sometimes distinguished from praise, but it’s often mentioned near to praise (1 Cor. 14:15; James 5:13; Rev. 5:8-9). These commentaries made me wonder if even those of the Reformation understood this concept better than we because Charles Spurgeon commented on Psalm 42 in his Treasury of David, “I would just as soon pray with machinery as to sing with machinery.” Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Orthodox philosopher and theologian David Bentley Hart’s New Testament translation accurately reflect this nuance. “And at about midnight, as they were praying, Paul and Silas sang hymns to God, and the prisoners listened to them.” I also consulted N. T. Wright’s New Testament translation, but he doesn’t reflect this. Most English translations don’t, but why are so many commentaries keen to point this out? Why not translate it as it should be?